The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing many Davidson county residents to rely on unemployment benefits to get by. A WPLN News analysis shows young and Black workers disproportionately need financial assistance.
Young and black people are more likely to work in at-risk industries that the pandemic hit. Think retail and restaurants which all closed during Tennessee’s stay at home order.
Between February and May the number of Davidson county residents in their early 20s that received unemployment benefits rose nearly six times.
Senior economist Elise Gould with the Economic Policy Institute says the Great Recession showed us how being unemployed early stays with you.
“Starting a career at that point can be hugely detrimental for your lifetime earnings, for your wages, for whether or not you’re going to have unemployment spells throughout your career,” Gould says.
Black Davidson county residents were disproportionately in need of unemployment benefits before the pandemic started. And if you combine unemployment with rising debt, it can create a cycle that reduces overall spending, which can become a long term drag on the economy.
Tennessee residents have been receiving an additional payment of $300 a week in they were unemployed in August and the first week of September. FEMA is providing the benefit, but money for the program has already run out so the benefit is ending.
The United Way has been working with the Equity Alliance to expand their outreach efforts as they continue to distribute federal COVID-19 funds on behalf of the city.
“The big thing is containing the disease,” says Sycamore Institute executive director Laura Berlind. “The businesses that are particularly affected by a pandemic, they have been closed by both some level of policy intervention and also simply because people aren’t going out. They’re worried about getting coronavirus and having adverse effects. So they’re not going out and using those businesses. So businesses are struggling in that way too.”
Berlind adds that government policies can mitigate the disparities in the short term, by helping people who are unemployed get more education so they can enter a new field and connecting people to resources.
She says in the long term, policymakers need to have a conversation about the root causes of the disparities and why they continue to persist.